Mrs Barbara Owen MBE – ‘Mrs Rickmansworth’

By Alison Wall, on behalf of all who knew and loved Barbara.

Barbara Owen (nee Gravestock) was a Rickmansworth girl from the day she was born.  She lived in the centre of Rickmansworth, with her parents and elder sister Marion.  She excelled in school and gained a scholarship to Watford Grammar School for Girls at the age of ten.  She continued to shine and became Head Girl there.  After her schooling she pursued a teaching career. She moved to Bournemouth during the war years to finish her training and when the war ended, moved to London for her first teaching post. It was at this time she was introduced to her future husband Jack Owen. He had just retired from the Merchant Navy after 14 years’ service as a Lieutenant. The following year in 1947 they were married in St Mary’s, Rickmansworth.

Her early married life was very happy and four daughters arrived in fairly quick succession.  However Barbara had many challenges in her life and Jack suffered an eighteen month period of tuberculosis whilst the girls were young in the 1950’s.  Barbara managed to survive and care for the whole family, with her skill in needlework and cooking.  She ensured the family enjoyed healthy, nutritious meals.  Jack recovered, but in 1963 suffered a fatal cardiac arrest – I remember Mr Owen, who taught me at Shepherd’s junior school in Mill End shortly before his unexpected death. 

So Barbara was left a widow with four girls to bring up and facing considerable death duties.

Barbara returned to teaching, and was helped by the fact that she had been a Head Examiner for school exam papers.  She was interviewed at Watford Grammar School for Girls, where she had been Head Girl, and a post was created for her there, which enabled her to gain her way back to the world of teaching.

Barbara taught in various schools, including Joan of Arc and Clement Danes.  She did not actually finally stop teaching until she reached her eighties. 

Alongside her teaching work Barbara has given her all to her community in the various voluntary roles she took on in Rickmansworth. She headed up the catering committee at St. Mary’s and was Chair of Three Rivers Museum Trust for many years until her death.  She was Secretary of the Ricky Society and loved her involvement with the costume department of the Museum of London.

She was awarded the MBE for services to the Community in 2012 at the remarkable age of ninety, and had her award presented by Prince Charles. 

Another family tragedy happened suddenly in 2016, when her eldest daughter Margaret died unexpectedly from intestinal complications.  It is heart breaking to lose a child and so suddenly. Barbara gradually became frailer over the following years, and spent her last few weeks cared for in Watford General Hospital, still mentally alert but with physical frailties.

She has given so much to her community, but her focus was always others and not herself.  Barbara often said how grateful she was to everyone, but we are grateful to her for all she has done for us and for her example – impossible to follow. You could speak to Barbara about anything, and she had no airs or graces.  She made you laugh with her humour and expressions. She remained positive to the end and grateful for all that life had given her. 

There will only ever be one Barbara, a person we are all privileged to have known and loved.  She will always be remembered, and, like her, we are grateful.

Published by Rickmansworth Historical Society

The Rickmansworth Historical Society was founded on the initiative of Godfrey Cornwall who became its first Chairman. Our activities cover the history of the "old parish area" of Rickmansworth, which includes Chorleywood, West Hyde, Mill End and Croxley Green, Loudwater, Batchworth and Eastbury as well as the town of Rickmansworth. We meet at 8pm on the second Thursday of the month from September to June inclusive in the Cloisters Hall, The Cloisters, WD3 1HL, opposite St Joan of Arc School, Rickmansworth. The Committee meets about four times a year to conduct business and plan the programme. The Society publishes the Rickmansworth Historical Review three times a year.

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